Wildflowers and Volcanic Rocks at Pinnacles

This past week my friend, Beck, and I headed to Pinnacles National Park just as the wildflower season was getting going. Hoo-boy did we hit the jackpot! Here are some of the wildflowers we saw and memorable moments from our Bear Gulch—High Peaks—Condor Gulch Loop (5.6 miles, 1700 feet elevation gain).

1. Wildflowers…everywhere! Ceanothus, shooting star, and tiny chia were just a few out of over a dozen species we spotted. I later found out that Pinnacles has over 100 distinct wildflower species!

2. In Bear Gulch Cave, southwest of the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, we squeezed our way through suspended boulders, string beans of light, and water-logged passageways.

The most widely-accepted theory of how Bear Gulch Cave came to be has to do with Bear Creek, which runs through it today. Over time, water carved vertically and horizontally through the volcanic rock, eroding an empty path below and freezing rocks above in pieces that then broke off. The remaining boulders create the talus caves today, and are still descending with the help of gravity.

Heading upstream against Bear Creek, we popped out at Bear Gulch Reservoir. If you turn around here, it would be a super fun 1.9-mile roundtrip hike in its own right. We took a snack break and then headed up to the High Peaks Trail.

Gazing up at the boulders, Bear Creek next to the path.. Photo credit: Becky Lomax

Bear Gulch Reservoir

3. The huge, cartoon-like pinnacles on the High Peaks Trail were like wind-carved sculptures. The burnt-orange formations were once part of the Pinnacles volcano, created between twenty-two and twenty-three million years ago. When it was intact, the volcano was 8,000 feet tall, 15 miles long, and five miles wide—only slightly smaller than today’s Mount St. Helens! The majority of volcanic rocks in Pinnacles are light-colored rhyolite, and the ones on the High Peaks Trail are a type of rhyolite called breccia.

Arriving up to the high point of our hike at 2500 feet, it was just phenomenal, like dancing on the edge of a precipice amidst the puffed-up rounded spires. The buck brush on the lower left of the picture was blooming everywhere on our loop, wafting into the trail like perfumed lilac.

Looked like a mitt wrapped around a baseball to me.

On our way back down through Condor Gulch we were treated to more wildflowers—patches of buttercups, silver bush lupine, and fire-red woolly Indian paintbrush.

What a day! Thankfully Onur reminded me that the Pinnacles Visitor Center sells cold drinks. Beck got a strawberry lemonade and it was a peach tea for me, delightfully cold and sweet.

Hiking on the High Peaks Trail, keeping an eye out for condors. Photo credit: Becky Lomax